ASHE COUNTY — The Ashe County Board of Commissioners heard from opposing sides of a proposed asphalt plant during their regular board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8.
Representatives of the Protect Our Fresh Air (POFA) committee and Appalachian Materials came before the board to discuss Appalachian Materials’ proposed asphalt plant in Glendale Springs that has become a hot topic among community members, leading to the formation of POFA who fear that the plant would impact the quality of life in the area.
According to the committee, during the last month, meetings of POFA have doubled its attendance, drawing local business owners, farmers, retired people and young families.
Members of POFA, formed by residents of Glendale Springs, were present for the meeting with signs reading “protect our fresh air, stop the asphalt plant.” Many also placed red stickers on their clothing stating their opposition to the asphalt plant.
Prior to the meeting, POFA sent a letter to the Ashe County Board of Commissioners reporting that “major alterations to the site” have been observed, raising concerns about air pollution and vested rights.
“No official authorization for site preparation has been granted for Appalachian Materials’ proposed asphalt plant on Glendale School Road,” said Louis Zeller, executive director of Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and author of the letter, citing a court decision which ruled that vested rights come only with a lawful permit, not by premature development of industrial or commercial sites. “We raised the issue of vested rights because we have seen asphalt companies try to bulldoze their way to getting what they want.”
POFA also submitted a petition asking the county to consider changing the county’s polluting industries ordinance.
The Ashe County Planning Department received a formal application from Appalachian Materials for an asphalt plant at the end of June. The proposal stated the plant would sit on a 30-acre land parcel on Glendale School Road next to an existing rock quarry owned and operated by Radford Quarries.
According to Ashe County Planning Director Adam Stumb, before the asphalt plant can be granted a permit, it has to receive federal and state permit to meet the Polluting Industries Ordinance act passed in the early 2000s in response to Tri-County Paving attempting to build an asphalt plant.
During the meeting, members of POFA gave a presentation to the board explaining why they opposed the asphalt plant and to request a moratorium on polluting industries including new asphalt plants in Ashe County.
“We are here today to stand up for our fresh air. We are here to stand up for our clean water. We are here to stand up for our land values, our $50 million tourism economy, our $95 billion cattle and Christmas tree economy and to stand up for the terminally ill children and their families who attend Camp New Hope,” POFA founder Pat Considine said to commissioners.
Regulations require the proposed plant to be at least 1,000 feet from a residential area and 1,320 feet from any school, hospital, church or daycare.
Camp New Hope was established in 2006 as a non-profit camp for terminally ill children and their families and is located less than a half-mile from the proposed plant.
Camp director Randy Brown was present at the meeting to speak in opposition of the asphalt plant.
“I have hundreds of letters from parents saying how much they enjoy the fact that the air is clean here. So many of their children don’t have to use their breathing apparatus when they are here,” Brown said. “Our concern is that will change, and we don’t want that to change. We want that to remain the way it is for these kids.”
According to Brown, 42 families visit the camp each year at no charge. Brown said she worries that the sound and smell coming from the plant will be confusing for the visiting children who love the fresh air and enjoy playing in the New River.
“Our hope is to give these kids a little bit of normalcy while they’re here. We do whatever we can for these kids,” Brown said. “For us, its not about politics, it’s about these kids. We want to do what is best for them.”
Also located near the proposed asphalt plant is the Holy Trinity Church.
According to members of the POFA committee, vibrations from heavy trucks hauling gravel from the quarry are already causing damage to the frescoes.
“There’s the concern of the many trucks entering the facility and leaving the facility with products and using the intersection at (highway) 16 in Glendale Springs which is exactly where the Church of Frescoes is,” Phil Rhyne, a resident of Glendale Springs, said. “My understanding is the material used for that painting is fragile to some extent and there’s a big concern of damaging those paintings.”
According to Rhyne, nearly 50,000 people visit Glendale Springs each year just to see the Frescoes. Rhyne also mentioned the impact the plant would have on tourist destinations such as the New River and Raccoon Holler Camp Ground.
“It would be a tremendous tragedy to wake up next year or three years from now and find that we have diminished our quality of life or harmed this fragile environment,” Rhyne said.
Glendale Springs resident Nancy Sumner spoke to commissioners about the violations Radford Quarries had been cited for. According to Sumner, an online website states that Radford Quarries was cited for 70 violations since May of 2008.
Radford Quarries Compliance director Randy Marsh stated that those violations aren’t as threatening as Sumner claims.
“It’s not about recklessness,” Marsh said. “It’s about knowing the facts. It’s about looking at something more than the internet.”
According to Marsh, anything that is not in compliance with the regulations is written as a violation.
“If a light doesn’t work, it’s a violation. If a wire is not properly insulated, it’s a violation,” Marsh said. “We get a chance to correct those things.”
Derek Goddard, principal consultant of Blue Ridge Environmental Consultants, addressed the additional concerns POFA brought before the commissioners.
Goddard stated that he is a resident of Ashe County and would not support a business that posed a threat to the community.
According to Goddard, the proposed asphalt site meets all requirements of the Ashe County Polluting Industries Ordinance and an air quality permit through NCDENR- Division of Air Quality is the only outstanding permit needed to proceed.
A public hearing regarding that permit has been scheduled for 6 p.m. on Oct. 6 at the Ashe County Courthouse by the North Carolina Division of Environment and Natural Resources. A notice was released on Sept. 3 stating:
“Appalachian Materials LLC — Glendale Asphalt Plant’s application for the proposed drum-mix, hot mix asphalt plant was reviewed by the Division of Air Quality, Winston-Salem Regional Office to determine compliance with the requirements of the North Carolina Environment Management Commission air pollution regulation. The results of that review led to the preliminary determination that the project could be approved and the Division of Air Quality permit could be issued, if certain permit conditions are met.”
According to Goddard, the proposed plant would be located 2,700 feet from Camp New Hope and 2,000 feet from the New River. Goddard also stated that facilities are not allowed to emit pollutants than exceed air toxin limits beyond their property lines.
“We as an applicant, we as an asphalt plant cant have those toxins go beyond our property line,” Goddard said. “If they are emitted, then we have violations.”
The board entered into an executive session to consult with County Attorney John Kilby. Afterwards, Commissioner Larry Rhodes made the motion to hold a public hearing to consider public comments regarding allowing the county to amend the existing polluting industries ordinance. The motion passed in a 5-0 vote.
The County released the following statement on Tuesday, Sept. 8 following the meeting’s adjournment:
“The Ashe County Board of Commissioners will hold a Special Meeting on Friday, Sept. 11, 2015 at 11 a.m. in the Commissioners’ Meeting Room on the third floor of the Ashe County Courthouse. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss amending the motion made at the Sept. 8, 2015 meeting to set a public hearing date to consider public comments as to whether the County should amend the existing Polluting Industries Ordinance, to include the possibility of a moratorium on the issuance of permits under the ordinance. The commissioners may enter into executive session under G.S. 143-318.11 (a) (3) to consult with the county attorney on this matter.”
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.